HANNIBAL, Mo. -- Bonnie Stewart made sure to include some key parts of Ralls County and the natural settings with the Biblical elements in the hand-crafted stained-glass windows she created for the new Antioch Baptist Church building -- reflecting her decades of experience with stained glass and a lifelong love of nature.
Stewart grew up on a dairy farm in Ralls County, and she always loved to explore nature as she walked to Oak Hill School. Her love of nature eventually led to a career as a Master Naturalist in Tennessee and in Missouri, and she channeled her love for the outdoors through creations in paint, pottery, stories -- and for the past two decades -- stained glass, including two windows she spent the past year crafting for Antioch Baptist Church.
The windows glow with a variety of elements from the Bible and from Ralls County -- including the original white building that served as the first building for the Antioch Baptist Church congregation to gather, a little boy pointing to two lost sheep and a beloved bluff that sits not far from the present-day church.
Growing up, Stewart loved the chance to explore the insects, plants, geology and other parts of nature, and her curiosity melded with the realities of being an only child growing up on the farm. She remembers figuring out things for herself, and laughs when she recalls her cousin, Tom, persuading her to take two hounds into the woods to chase a squirrel up a tree for dinner.
"You respect work," she said.
When the opportunity arose, Stewart witnessed all of the wildlife and scenic views from the nearby bluffs firsthand.
"To climb up on that bluff was an adventure," she said, mentioning how it helped cultivate an interest in all that was around her. "I became interested in everything."
Since Stewart purchased a grinder for crafting stained glass artwork 30 years ago, she has made cabochons -- highly polished, gem-like stones and pieces of petrified wood that begin as a slab -- drawings, paintings, pottery and stained-glass creations that evoke nature and all of the beauty in God's creatures, plants and scenes.
Throughout Stewart's home, there are intricate stained-glass creations, including a lamp made from 500 pieces of art glass and two towering stained-glass windows, along with paintings and pottery showing waterfalls in Tennessee, bluffs in Missouri and numerous scenes in her beloved Ralls County and beyond. And she is happy that two of her creations have a home at Antioch Baptist Church.
"When I decided to do this, I wanted do something that would be unique to Ralls County," she said. "I just hope they enjoy it there for years."